When at the Bottom of the Barrel

When at the Bottom of the Barrel

The other morning I read a passage from Acts, where Paul, in his farewell speech to the church of Ephesus, talked about living life generously and working hard to make sure to always have something to give to the poor, because it is more blessed to give than to receive.1 Little did I know that I was going to be tested on those very principles a few hours later.

My friend and I enjoyed a warm spring afternoon on the balcony, sipping a cold fruit juice. We had been chatting about the week’s accomplishments and were discussing plans for the month ahead. Before taking her leave, my friend, who is a social worker in a poor neighborhood, brought up an urgent situation she had recently encountered.

“Mercy has been an orphan most of her life, and now sadly at the young age of 25 has been diagnosed with cancer. She has been making ends meet by washing laundry for people, and most months she doesn’t even reach a minimum wage. With lack of funding for health insurance, she is now left stranded and has to finance the urgently needed treatment herself. She has been appealing to well-wishers, but she is still short of money for medication.”

With an expectant look in her eyes, my friend paused and there was a moment of silence between us. I felt convicted about helping out, but it was the end of the month and there were bills to pay. I was glad when her phone rang and she got busy with the caller. This gave me a moment to sort out the conflict that was rapidly unfolding inside me.

Why now? I thought to myself.

As I contemplated, the thought came to mind: Haven’t we already reached our maximum of giving this month? And after meeting the bills, the plan is to finally start saving for some of our large family’s needs.

My conscience then came in: Hasn’t God supplied each time you went beyond your limits to give to someone in need?

My mind: That’s true, but … savings plan.

My conscience popped up again: Why not think of the principles Jesus taught, to “give to those who ask” and “treat others just as you want to be treated.”2

My mind: That’s right, but I urgently need to find a balance between giving and saving.

My conscience was not giving up: “Freely you have received, freely give.”3

My mind retorted: It’s not a cup of water! We’re talking about cash, which I’m running short of at the moment.

My conscience: Think of another principle Jesus taught: “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”4

Sighing deeply, I looked up and again met my friend’s expectant eyes.

“I can help.”

My conscience had won, and with an unexpected feeling of peace I dug into my financial reserve and gave what was needed, trusting that God would indeed fill the vacuum which I had just created.

I had almost forgotten this incident when I bumped into an old acquaintance while out shopping a couple of days later. Before parting, he reached into his bag and gave me a sealed envelope and said, “God put it on my heart to give this to you after all you’ve done for me. I am sure that a generous person like you will find good use for it.”

When I arrived home, I found a generous amount of money in the envelope, which made this month’s cycle of giving and receiving complete.

When we create a vacuum through sharing and giving, it draws not only financial blessing into it but also happiness and a feeling of accomplishment. It fosters friendships and camaraderie. It protects us from the sickness of hoarding and teaches us the cycle of giving and receiving. “Freely you have received, freely give.”5

* * *

What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other—but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness … He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him.—Erich Fromm (1900–1980)

1. See Acts 20:32–35.
2. Matthew 5:42 NLT; Luke 6:30–31 CEV
3. Matthew 10:8
4. Matthew 25:40 CEV
5. Matthew 10:8

Iris Richard

Iris Richard

Iris Richard is a mother of seven children and grandmother of six. She and her husband live in Kenya where they have been involved in missionary work and humanitarian aid projects for the last 25 years. Iris is a nurse and counselor. 

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